Thursday 7 July 2011

A Life of Crime

Well, not exactly a life of crime, but I feel as if that's what I've been doing. When we pitched up at Newcastle airport's car rental desk last week, I presented my old, pink, paper UK driving licence to the clerk. (For some reason I assumed rental companies would feel safer with someone who'd passed a British driving test, albeit several decades ago.) The poor guy nearly fell off his chair when he saw it and asked me how long I'd been out of the country.

So I sort of lied and said "About twenty years, off and on". Which is true.

I was then told to send my licence back to the DVLA immediately and under no circumstances to show it if a police officer required prrof of eligibility.

"Oh", I said.

According to Mr. Car Rental, a) I should have a new plastic licence with photo ID, and b) I won't be able to get one because I'm not resident in the UK.

Well then.  Who knew.

As soon as I could I went on to the DVLA web site to clear up the matter (and research this blog post). Most of what he said is there in black and white.

- You can't renew a UK driving licence unless you're resident in the UK.
- You can drive for a year on many foreign licences (including a US one).
- The new, plastic licences actually have an expiry date on them (which many Brits apparently didn't know) so even though you can drive till you're 70, you may have to renew your licence several times before that

I asked what happens when you come back to the UK for say, two years. Mr. Car Rental said you can do something which makes your foreign licence more permanent, but I couldn't find anything to that effect on the web site. And since I have the old pink paper kind, which doesn't have an expiry date on it, what's all the fuss about?

I will be calling DVLA for a full explanation as soon as I have a moment, but just a warning to expat Brits out there - your UK licence may be well past its sell-by date.


  1. Oh dear.....this is something that I have to rectify too. I am also a holder of the paper licence. A rare breed now, almost extinct. :-)

  2. Lulu - I'm not sure if it's a problem for current residents, but most people seem to have a plastic version.

  3. What a palaver for you!

    Husband has the new plastic one as he lost his paper one, but I'm still very old school. I may update to a new one just in case there are problems when we go abroad.

  4. I was really lucky when I moved to the UK - all Canadians need to do is exchange current Canadian license with a UK one, and hey presto! Must admit, I was a bit of a danger on the roads, though!

  5. You have to renew your photo licence every 10 years. Nice little money making scheme they have there!

  6. I suppose it's a good thing I've lost my old pink licence then :-( I considered trying to replace it when I was going to the UK last year. Given that my parents still live at the address on my licence, and I have a passport with digital passport, all I'd have to do is to apply online and say I'd lost my licence. I think. But the online form says there's some humongous penalty for applying from outside the country, or for applying from inside the country if you're a non-resident . . . One more step in my Americanization I suppose :-(

  7. I have a plastic one, but it runs out in 2012. We've been living in France for 7 years, so I'll have to swap it for a French one. I'm hoping I won't be clobbered with points on my license for those couple of pesky speed cameras that have caught me over here ....

  8. Wow , that is all so incredibly complicated, its making my head spin. I was just about to check my nine year old Brit license in my wallet, then remembered my wallet has just been stolen in Paris. Wonder if that's a good excuse..

  9. Oh, and do let us know what you find out from the DVLA. DH has been muttering things about wanting to move to the UK once we retire, or at least spend significant amounts of time there, so we're wondering what I would do about replacing my lost UK licence then. I suppose I could always take a driving test!

  10. DVLA: department of vehicle licensing......?

    Seems that it's universal to have headaches dealing with this office, no matter what country you live in. Getting ready to take the test for my Korean license, not that I think I'll ever be brave enough to drive here....

  11. I was driving in the UK with an American driving
    license for longer then I should have. I just forgot about it really until one day I looked and my US license was expired. Then I was up the creek because I not only had to take driving lessons but the UK test as well and nearly failed the written part!!!

    My paper one is green and so worn from being folded into my wallet that it's nearly impossible to unfold. I have had to make a photo copy of it and keep that with it so anyone who needs to can actually read it with out ripping the original to shreds!

    Husband has the plastic one but I actually like pulling out my old manky paper one and unfolding it infront of car rental agents and any other Americans. I get such looks.

    Let us know how you get on.

  12. Tried to phone the DVLA today to investigate. Couldn't get through!

  13. We had the opposite here - had to take the New York driving test before we could even get insurance to buy a car. I would say that the two countries should have a driving licence Amnesty - but having seen how easy the test here and the number of simply appalling drivers, I'm not sure it would be safe!

  14. Interesting! Having failed the UK driving test once and finally passing, the whole process has made me speechless :) Good luck! XOL

  15. Which is worse DVLA or DMV?! Hobson's choice.

    I had no idea the UK license expired. If it's every 10 years I have about 2 left.

  16. It's not the LICENSE that expires, it's the PHOTO on the licence, there's a difference. If you think about it, it's like a passport photo which needs updating as you age.

    I moved to Sweden last year from the UK, and the photo on my licence expired in April just gone (The dvla even sent a helpful reminder to my parents' address in the UK to remind me, but of course now I am in Sweden I would legally have to get a Swedish license, which I knew from research before my move).

    Checked with the transport authority here and all I have to do is fill in a form, pay the fee, and they can swap my license for a Swedish one.

    Don't want to sound condescending or anything, but it's really very easy if you bother to check the rules and don't just assume things last for ever! :-D

  17. I managed to swap my old pink one for a plastic one a few years ago while visiting the UK. I just used my parents address. After being given the riot act that a non-resident could not apply for a plastic license they had amazingly few checks to actually confirm residency.

    Never thought to check whether it expired though, that's a very good point.

    Oh, and they obviously didn't like my photo as they have 'drawn in' my blonde eyebrows and now I look like a Russian hooker. Or more like a Russian hooker.

  18. Julie- apparently because many people were used to the old paper ones, which expire when you're 70, there are a lot of drivers being caught short, not having realized that the new ones need to be renewed.
    Ali - the problem arises when , like me, you use it to hire a car, they run it through the records and you don't come up as a resident of that address. (Big brother!)

  19. Wow its almost gives a feeling of "you cannot come back home so easily."


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